JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
Brig. Gen. Caroline Miller, 502d Air Base Wing and Joint Base San Antonio commander, and Command Chief Master Sgt. Wendell Snider hosted their “Tough Conversation” forum on the topic of PTSD June 29 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in recognition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month.
The 502d ABW Command Team took the time to discuss what it means to have or know people who deal with PTSD. Miller opened the conversation for anyone to share his or her experiences with PTSD.
“I came home from Afghanistan with PTSD and I didn’t realize what it was,” said an individual who retired from the Air Force. “My kids weren’t comfortable with me anymore; my baby was terrified of me. I didn’t know what was going on. I’m okay now, but it was years of hell.”
The conversation focused on reintegration. One Airman who deployed during his time in the Navy related to the difficulties of transitioning to life back home.
“We can’t continue to bring people home and leave them alone. I got home and I felt like I didn’t fit anymore,” he said.
“It’s like everywhere you go to get help, it’s a book. There’s nothing to help the individual,” said an Airman who felt as though reintegration services were too broad and impersonal.
While attendees discussed reintegration, some mentioned dismissing potentially having PTSD because of their job while on deployment.
“I didn’t get shot at or blown up so I felt like I should have been fine,” said a retiree who didn’t seek help until several years after returning from her final deployment.
Miller responded by emphasizing how important it is for leadership to be aware of their teammates.
“From a leadership perspective, you have to know your people. You have to be able to tell when they’re not being themselves,” she said. “How many times do we hear about a suicide and think, ‘I had no idea they were going through that?’”
Snider agreed and explained how leadership can sometimes lose focus on what’s important.
“The biggest threat to any leader is being too focused on work. You have to observe and watch what’s going on with your teammates,” the chief said.
“As leaders, we refine our skills but lose sight of emotional intelligence,” said one participant. “If we can’t sit back and understand our own emotions, we can’t be socially aware when our team comes to us with problems.”
Most of the attendees agreed that things have changed for the better, although the system still isn’t perfect.
“I think it is important to have the conversation,” said one Airman. “We used to say, ‘work is work; you have to move on.’ Back then you couldn’t go to mental health, because of the stigma, but now we can do that.”
Miller closed up the conversation by mentioning “The Things We Carry”, a campaign that highlights the challenges of fellow service members in order to remind people that they are not alone in their struggles.
“We, as leadership, have to be okay with people taking a knee,” Miller said.
The “Tough Conversation” roundtable is a monthly series focused on important, challenging and impactful topics that affect the Air Force and Department of Defense. This series fosters an open and candid dialogue between 502d ABW senior leaders, service members and civilians of all ranks and backgrounds.